Twenty-five years ago, the first Scream movie found great success dropping characters who happened to be horror-movie fans into a slasher plot ripped from the aisles of Blockbuster Video. Vicious Fun, a new Canadian horror-comedy now streaming on Shudder, offers a similar scenario but with a protagonist whose love of splatter doesn’t actually give him any advantage when his own life starts uncomfortably resembling the movies he adores. Fortunately, he has help—an essential survival strategy after he unwittingly ticks off a group of brutal murderers.
Directed by Cody Calahan and written by James Villeneuve, Vicious Fun focuses on dorky Joel (Evan Marsh), who writes for a Fangoria-ish magazine. He blunders into a dangerous scenario by getting very drunk and accidentally crashing a self-help meeting for serial killers; the purpose of this group is a little nebulous (other than an excuse to get all these characters into the same room), but apparently talking about one’s feelings in a safe place is something that helps even bloodthirsty maniacs. The eclectic bunch includes a hulking Jason Voorhees type (former pro wrestler Robert Maillet), a sadistic clown (Julian Richings), a ninja-chef-cannibal (Sean Baek), and a military dude who exploits his position to commit mass killings (Anchorman’s David Koechner).
There’s also the late-arriving Bob (Ari Millen), whose American Psycho tendencies and Members Only jacket are sometimes the only reminder that Vicious Fun is set in the 1980s, and the surly Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), who—unbeknownst to the others at first, though it’s not a plot spoiler—is a mash-up of Dexter and assassin, employed by a mysterious agency to criss-cross the country seeking out and slaying the worst of the worst. Joel’s able to fake his way at first, pretending to be an absent new member “Phil” (who was already checked off Carrie’s kill list), but he’s soon discovered. Fortunately, since Joel’s not on Carrie’s kill list, she begrudgingly helps him avoid being reduced to a red stain on the floor.
Vicious Fun leans into the “comedy” part of “horror-comedy” for most of its runtime. Though the good guys do get banged up as the movie progresses, you never believe they’re in any real danger (the same can’t be said for some of the other characters, so rest assured there’s plenty of gore). Really, this movie is less interested in serial-killer culture than it is Joel’s transformation from a nerd who gets his thrills solely from watching horror movies to a confident guy who can actually sorta hold his own in dangerous situations. Better living through murder, if you will—though it’s murder with a certain moral compass since Carrie’s the one showing him the ropes.
Slasher movies are well-known for the heroics of the final girl—a character who survives on sheer gumption and triumphs in that last gruesome showdown. Vicious Fun isn’t a slasher movie in the traditional sense, but it’s unusual in that it has a male lead who must rely on a much stronger woman to overcome his many vulnerabilities. We don’t really get to know Carrie; naturally, she’s secretive about herself, understandable given her line of work, but mostly her purposes are to be a beast in the fight scenes and to remind Joel to remove his head from his ass. She also serves as a counterbalance to the other woman in the movie: Joel’s roommate and mega-crush Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele), who views him strictly platonically. Carrie’s not there not just to save Joel’s life (repeatedly), but to bluntly point out that if Sarah’s made her choice to put him in the friend zone, he needs to respect that. All that is to say that the female characters are a bit underwritten, but really everyone in this movie is fairly one-note. To get too deep into developing any of them would take away from Vicious Fun’s splat-happy tone and breakneck pacing.
Though it’s tempting to wish that Carrie—way cooler, way more intriguing—had been elevated to protagonist status over Joel, doing so would’ve taken away from Vicious Fun’s other delight, which is all its self-referential horror fanservice. We’ve seen it done before; it’s an established way for filmmakers to wink at the audience in a “we know you know, fellow gorehounds” kind of way. The story introduces us to Joel as he’s conducting an interview for his horror mag, but finds himself unable to resist needling a schlocky director about falling back on the same tired clichés and tropes. Later, a different character basically pauses the action to give a rapid-fire (and totally accurate) breakdown of what a genre movie is. The upshot: Vicious Fun is clearly a film made by fans for fans, and it’s meant to entertain (the word “fun” is right there in the title, after all) rather than make some big statement or break much new ground. And in that, it definitely succeeds.
Vicious Fun is now streaming on Shudder.
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